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Mohamed “Mo” Bamba is guaranteed to lead the NBA in at least one category in the 2018-19 season – wingspan. He set an NBA Combine record in May, when his wingspan was measured at seven feet, 10 inches, which is one inch longer than the current NBA leader, Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz. Bamba became just the seventh player over the last 19 years at the combine to have a wingspan that exceeded seven feet, seven inches, with the only notable player of the other six being Gobert. Bamba’s wingspan doesn’t come close to the all-time NBA record of 8 feet, 6 inches, however, which is held by Manute Bol. Bamba’s other measurements include a standing reach of 9 feet, 7.5 inches, and a hand width of 10.25 inches.
In addition to his impressive physical profile, Bamba has a personality that stands out. He is affable, charming, intelligent, and articulate. People gravitate to him, and he responds with openness and respect. Some question if such a nice and bright guy has the grit and drive to star in the NBA. Others question his effort on the court. Personally, I have seen him play a number of times, and the only thing that ever concerned me was an occasional tendency to not move in the post. On the defensive end, he always appeared active and engaged. As for him being driven to succeed over the long run, I have very little concern about that. He seems to have a quiet competitiveness within him, and while a number of prospects appear to be motivated mainly by money, I would not include Bamba in that group.
Bamba is often compared to Gobert, as both have a rare combination of length, size, mobility, and defensive instincts. Bamba doesn’t have the same bulk as Gobert at this point, but the 19-year-old seems to be lighter on his feet and have a bit more agility. From a distance, Bamba appears to be all arms and legs, but he has very broad shoulders, and he should fill out nicely over time. His upper body is definitely more developed than his lower body, and this is an area where he will need to improve to withstand the rigors of playing in the NBA.
Like most players who have extraordinary length and size, Bamba’s overall athleticism is limited; he will never be confused with a point forward, for example. He lacks the ability to change directions and stop/start very quickly. His ability to make plays off the bounce from the perimeter is mainly limited to rare straight-line drives, and he is not the fastest rim runner. He does, however, show good agility around the rim, and is able to use either hand to finish and block shots.
In his freshman season at Texas, Bamba excelled as a shot blocker and a rebounder. He ranked second in the NCAA (DI) in block shots per game (3.6), 12th in rebounds per game (10.7), and 13th in rebound percentage (20.2). He also ranked in the top 30 in the country for offensive rebounds per game (3.2), defensive rebounds per game (7.3), putbacks (39), defensive rating (88.4), defensive win shares (2.5), and plus-minus (11.2). He ranked second on the team in scoring (12.9 PPG), and led the Big 12 Conference in double-doubles (15). Bamba was also named to the All-Big 12 Conference Second Team, the Big 12 All-Defensive Team, and the Big 12 All-Newcomer Team.
It’s no surprise that Bamba finished the season tied for 13th in the country in plus-minus – he markedly impacts the game on the defensive end of the court. When he is on the floor, opponents shy away from going into the lane, and at the same time, his teammates can guard more aggressively on the perimeter, knowing that Bamba is protecting the rim. His length, in combination with excellent timing and awareness, make it very difficult for opponents to shoot when he is in the vicinity. He blocks shots at the rim and from the weakside, and no floaters and runners are seemingly out of his reach. Bamba can have some problems on the perimeter, however, because he is relatively slow to react to changes in direction, and is prone to biting on various kinds of fakes. When he switches, for example, smaller/quicker players usually don’t have too much trouble getting past him, but they do typically have trouble getting their shots off because Bamba’s length allows him to block shots even if he is a step or two behind.
When comparing Bamba to other big men in this draft (see table at bottom), he leads the pack in defensive rebounding percentage and in percentage of blocks per field goals attempted against him. Despite being a premier shot blocker, he does a good job of not fouling (7.7% of the time), and for a big man, he forces a high number of turnovers (11.5% of the time). In terms of points per possession allowed, field-goal percentage allowed, and adjusted field-goal percentage allowed, his numbers are slightly below the group’s average, but we have to remember two things: 1) Bamba, unlike many of the others, played exclusively at center, guarding the rim, which led to a higher FG% allowed, and 2) he played in the best conference in college basketball; in fact, according to ESPN’s rankings, Texas played the second toughest schedule in the country this past season.
While Bamba is arguably the best defensive player in this draft class, he is limited on the offensive end of the court. This past season with the Longhorns, he did not display a vast offensive repertoire, with nearly 90 percent of his shots coming from one of two areas – 70 percent came within eight feet of the basket, while another 19 percent were 3-point attempts. He was most effective scoring on cuts to the basket and on putbacks. With seemingly no lob being too high for him, Bamba averaged 1.5 points per possession (95th percentile) as a cutter, and as an offensive rebounder, he averaged 1.34 points per possession (85th percentile).
Bamba’s post game is clearly a work in progress, as he uses very basic moves, without any fancy footwork or fakes. He also tends to be a bit stagnant in the post, not working especially hard to get open. His preferred shot is a right-hand hook, but he made just 38 percent of those this past season. He also uses drop steps, face-up jumpers, and left-hand hooks, but none with a great deal of success. He shows the most promise either when using quick spins to his left on drives to the basket, or when flashing to the middle of the paint for various shots. The fact that he received just eight touches this season when flashing this season speaks to the stagnation that I mentioned above. Overall in the post this season, Bamba averaged just .73 points per possession, which ranked at the 34th percentile.
Bamba had only 15 assists on the season, nine of which came from the post, though one could hardly classify him as black hole since he attempted just 9.0 shots per game. Instead, I would say that his offensive awareness significantly lags behind his defensive awareness. He is not the best at finding open shooters when he is double-teamed in the post, and he is also susceptible to having smaller players dig the ball away. As a result, his efficiency as a post passer ranked at the 40th percentile, and he had a post turnover percentage of 14 percent (64th percentile for players with at least 50 post possessions).
Bamba also struggled to score off the pick and roll this past season, averaging just .77 points per possession (20th percentile). Part of the problem was that he wasn’t aggressive rolling to the basket, preferring to take pick-and-pop jumpers. He took just nine shots as a roller, making six, and as a jump shooter off the pick and roll, he made less than 17 percent of his shots (4 of 24).
I believe that some of Bamba’s struggles in the post and off the pick and roll can be attributed to the rest of his team. The Longhorns were woeful from beyond the arc this season, making just 32 percent of their shots and ranking 321st out of 351 DI teams. As a result, the painted area on Texas’ offensive end often looked like an NYC subway train during rush hour, and Bamba was stuck in the middle of it. Opposing defenders constantly sagged off the Longhorns’ perimeter shooters, ready to help on Bamba. In turn, Bamba often had little room to operate, with and without the ball. In the NBA, he is unlikely to face this type of situation, at least not to the same degree, and I can foresee him being far more efficient offensively, especially as a roller.
As a jump shooter this past season, Bamba made just 14 of his 51 three-point attempts (28%), and the vast majority were near the top of the arc. Inside the 3-point line, he made four of his 11 attempts (36%). He didn’t display the ability to shoot off the bounce (one attempt all season), and his mechanics were less than ideal. His overall shooting motion was smooth but somewhat deliberate and slow. Additionally, he broke the vertical plane of his forehead when taking the ball back before his release (two-motion shooter). I speak of his shooting mechanics in the past tense because they are something that Bamba is in the process of changing. John Gonzalez of the The Ringer recently gave a detailed behind-the-scenes look at Bamba’s pre-draft regime, and one of the focal points is improving his outside shot, including shortening his release. Better mechanics, combined with respectable his free-throw percentage (68%), bodes well for him to become a more reliable outside shooter at the next level.
In sum, there are a number of reasons to believe that Bamba will never be a serious offensive threat, but there is little doubt that he will be an impact defender. If his post game and outside shot never come around, he will still be effective as a cutter, offensive rebounder, and a roller. In that case, he would likely have the same type of impact as Gobert and DeAndre Jordan, elite, selfless rim protectors who add some buckets around the rim. If Bamba’s offensive game develops into something more, he could become one of the most valuable players in the league.
Big Men Defensive Comparison
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Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our scouting reports mainly come from Synergy Sports and RealGM, and occasionally from Hoop-Math.com and Sports Reference. The photos are courtesy of the Texas Athletics.